New York Jets Building An Elite Defense From The Inside Out

Connor Rogers on the New York Jets building their defense from the inside out

When the Jets selected Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson with the 13th overall pick they acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Darrelle Revis, the fan base was quite shocked. The Jets had taken defensive linemen with their first and third round picks in 2011 (Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis) and also with their first round pick in 2012 (Quinton Coples). With so much talent accumulated upfront now, Richardson’s development along with the rest of the interior line could possibly be the most vital aspect to the team’s future success on defense.

When a team has holes at almost every position, an intelligent front office selects unique, often freakish talents. Often the biggest mistake teams make when drafting is selecting players and forcing them into a system, rather than selecting players and building a system that puts them in a position to succeed. This is possibly Rex Ryan’s best coaching attribute, finding a niche for each player on the roster (at least on defense). Remember when Drew Coleman was awful in coverage, but was lethal as a blitzer off the edge? How about when Eric Smith couldn’t do much right except lineup the hit stick on Wes Welker running those underneath routes? Was Darrelle Revis the best defensive back in the league before Rex put him on an island with every other team’s number one wide receiver? (The answer is no, Revis was a great corner but became the best under Rex).

Overall, my point is that Sheldon Richardson was drafted to come in and get after the quarterback from the interior defensive line. High amounts of edge rushers are selected early each year, with a very small percentage of them becoming Pro Bowl caliber players. The league has adjusted to fast, elusive edge rushers by developing more athletic offensive tackles. The most disruptive defensive player in the entire league last year was easily JJ Watt, an interior defensive linemen who seems to have an impact on every play. While the Jets fortunately have a comparable, young stud in Muhammad Wilkerson, how many teams have two disruptive talents on the interior of their D-line? Not many.

John Idzik and Rex Ryan are attempting to bring an evolution of defensive play that a majority of the league has not attempted yet: Build a roster with elite defensive players on the inside, helping the “middle class” (Our very own Joe Caporoso’s term) players on the back end and on the outside. The truth is the Jets strengths on defense don’t include safety or outside linebacker. Recent addition Antwan Barnes has posted a double digit sack season, but isn’t regarded as an elite talent commanding double teams. Calvin Pace can help stop the run, that’s about it. Dawan Landry and whoever else wins the other starting safety spot will need a lot of help from top corner Antonio Cromartie and rookie Dee Milliner. With an elite pass rush (in a passing league) directly in the face of the quarterback, the play on the back end of the defense elevates.

There are three different types of defensive linemen in the NFL. First, you have a prototypical run stuffer, such as Mike DeVito, who held the edge well and wrapped up running backs, but rarely ever got a push against the pass. Second, there is elusive defensive tackles, much what Richardson is projected to be. While these players are often a disastrous assignment for centers and guards to pass protect against, they often get swallowed against the run. Third, there are complete players like JJ Watt and Muhammad Wilkerson. Both of these guys are big, fast, and impossible to block one on one against both the run and the pass.

Having a player like Wilkerson on your defensive line allows you to take a gamble on a player like Richardson, who might struggle against the run as a rookie. More importantly is how well Quinton Coples adjusts his reps at outside linebacker and the team’s “rush” position. Coples was surprisingly strong against the run as a rookie playing with his hand in the dirt on the inside. If Coples shows he can hold his own on the edge, the Jets are once again carving individual niches for each player in their defense. Wilkerson will demand double teams early and often, often opening one on one match ups for a speedy edge rusher in Antwan Barnes.

Although it’s been a slow rebuild with limited draft picks until this past April, the strength of the Jets defense has completely turned outside in. John Idzik and Rex Ryan have a blueprint to develop an elite defense in the long run, not just a one year wonder. With $50 million in potential cap space opening up next offseason, the Jets didn’t need to reach for a safety or outside linebacker. The new regime in place believes in stockpiling talent, not filling in needs. Team’s that load up on talent are often capable of covering up their blemishes, giving the Jets defense a potentially very, very bright future.

  • Anthony

    I do not believe that Rex Ryan has at all changed as a head coach, philosophically. The single most dramatic change in this organizational philosophy has been the introduction of John “motha%#@!ing” Idzik. Say what you will about Rex and his loyalty to older players, but the truth is, its really not the head coaches job to choose his players from the open market. That responsibility falls on the GM.

    I think we have all fallen into this Parcellion mythos that “they want you to do the cooking but not shop for the groceries”, but the fact is, most coaches are terrible GMs. This transcends nearly every sport. Very few can succeed in both roles, certainly not at the same time. Rex Ryan needed a dude who had his back. Rex will put players in the right place, but he needed someone capable of finding talented players first. Mike T failed at this… consistently.

    I get the exact same feelings about MM as an offensive coordinator. His lone failure in this league comes as the Head Coach of a team who’s GM was perhaps the single worst in all of sports, Matt Millen.

    David Kahn ain’t got sh*t on Matt Millen.

    Regardless, we have a new franchise beginning in florham park. Player evaluation based on talent and long term planning. I couldn’t be more excited.

  • Ricky

    This defense has a very BRIGHT future and I feel the offense does as well. MM and david lee are the right guyz for the job as well as john idzik. I think 8-10 wins r attainable! If rex could take the 09 10 teams to back to back afc chip appearances than I feel like he could @ lst push for a WC birth w/ this team.

  • KAsh

    @Anthony – You have to give Rex some credit. The Richardson pick could not have happened without Rex. You had three very good DTs, all with their own strengths. Richardson came out of the left field because most people did not see how he would fit into a hybrid 3-4 and did not think the Jets would, of all things, draft another DE. Coples is huge for an OLB in any scheme; the jury is still out on how well he will fulfill his new role. Richardson is a rookie; even Rex is dialing down the pressure on him. Wilkerson is the only sure thing on the D-line. But it takes a lot of imagination to see a talent like Richardson and figure out how to reshape your entire front seven to incorporate him.

    Richardson was an Idzik pick, but I do not believe Idzik would make any pick by himself without input from others, including his head coach.

    This is still a very young defense. Hopefully, Rex sticks around because he’s got the vision for what it should become. A different coach may not know what to do with all these pieces.

  • matr dontelli iii

    it’s likely rex and marty had some influence on the first three picks this year. it seems every idiot media member believes rex is a lame duck. if rex is a lame duck, so too, is his staff. it seems that idzik has a lot of trust in his ducks. maybe the ducks are less lame than those who write and speak of their lameness. i think the future is very bright, including the near future (this season). keep in mind fathead mike f. thinks the team will be horrible this year. isn’t that a sure sign of success?

  • Bob

    I’ve been saying since the end of the 2012 draft that Rex Ryan has drafted defense as someone who is VERY comfortable with his job would. He’s doing a great job on loading up on talented pass rushers, and interior defenders. If the middle of the field is weak, the entire field is weak. I absolutely love Rex Ryan as a coach.


  • Connor Rogers

    I think the talent was always there, but Rex’s isolation man on man scheme enabled Revis to prove he was the best. Remember when people used to put him on the same level as Asomugha? Rex let him match up with each team’s number one target with no safety help over the top, a bold move that paid off for each of them.

  • mikebe1

    never heard revis island till rex came here.

  • Interested Jet

    Conner Rodgers,

    I don’t understand how you can say when a team has holes in almost every position an intelligent front office selects unique often freakish talents. Often the biggest mistake teams make when drafting is selecting players and forcing them into a system, rather than selecting players and building a system that puts them in a position to succeed. The jets up until this past offseason had 3-4 defense DNA engrained in them. Rex Ryan who I strongly believe underneath all the disguised looks and multiple fronts, unpredictability, and organized chaos is a 4-3 minded defensive coach. This front office is not intelligent by a longshot. John Idzik has already made mistakes with Revis, Tebow, and has had problems bringing in players with baggage like Goodson and prima donas (Antonio Garay). So how can you praise the front office in getting a player like Richardson who hasn’t proven anything yet when there are a lot of question marks surrounding the team. You said “Remember when Drew Coleman was awful in coverage, but was lethal as a blitzer off the edge? How about when Eric Smith couldn’t do much right except lineup the hit stick on Wes Welker running those underneath routes? Was Darrelle Revis the best defensive back in the league before Rex put him on an island with every other team’s number one wide receiver? (The answer is no, Revis was a great corner but became the best under Rex).” First of all Drew Coleman was an excellent nickel cornerback who Rex Ryan and only Rex Ryan had a problem with because he wanted Donald Strickland to replace him. Turns out that it didn’t work well for Rex. Where is Donald Strickland now? It is a shame because Coleman was a Jets draft pick who was much younger and had more upside than Strickland. It also hurt the team chemistry because Coleman was part of the glue of the jets defense when he was on the team. Coleman had problems playing man to man and getting burned deep however he played excellent against the 3rd and 4th wide receivers in the nfl. Rex dismissed this when he drafted Kyle Wilson (who is so far in his development and had it not been for Revis might have found himself out of a job). Eric Smith was a team captain and important rotational player on defense for the jets as he found himself (much to the displeasure of jets fans ha ha) on the starting lineup as players around him (Leonhard, Poole, Bell) were hurt, demoted to the bench or simply took a break. You cannot replace a player like Smith and to say you will remember him for knocking the decal off Welker’s helmet, attacking receivers with the intention to hurt, and getting burned against Victor Cruz and the Giants two years ago is simply unreasonable and illogical. Darrelle Revis was a good corner for the jets before Rex Ryan was there but my question is why do you need to get so much more out of him? As it is Rex Ryan abused Revis and his talents. So much that he got him hurt last year (twice). Revis would have been dominant either with or without Rex Ryan the only difference is had the jets or Ryan specifically drafted and developed a good nose tackle after Mangini left Revis’ impact would not be felt because the jets would have been built to last for years and the impact of the defense would be felt by the entire league (especially during the 2009 and 2010 years) however Ryan stood by Pouha and the weak defensive line and the defense struggled in both afc championship games and in 2011 when teams ran on the jets.

    On the topic of Wilkerson and JJ Watt. Many jet fans have continued harp on this comparison but in reality Wilkerson is not and will not be better than JJ Watt. Watt is a special player who doesn’t come around too often. Wilkerson is a good defensive tackle who can do what he is told to do but Watt can impact the game like very few can. He is a consistent disruptive force, wilkerson needs or is going to need another mammoth next to him so he can create an impact similar to Watt. Now don’t misinterpret what I said. Houston’s defensive line is still very far away from being dominant but Watt is what makes the defense strong. Last year and in years past the jets pass defense made the jets defense strong. The jets still have problems defending the run. Richardson is very light for a nose tackle. A nose tackle so be no less than 335 pounds. Rex Ryan has been on record for saying he wants his team to be one step faster and has tried to bring down the weight of certain players. Richardson is not a mammoth he is a quick defensive lineman who doesn’t have to anchor himself. He wants to roam around and not have to hold his position. This has been his position his entire life (his “natural” position). When you say Calvin Pace can stop the run and that’s about it you forget that he can cover as well and can attack the quarterback but he doesn’t have the defensive line in front of him to make plays. The jets cannot defend properly if they don’t have the horses needed up front. I can understand if Rex shifts to a 4-3 and uses Richardson and Ellis up front but Ellis is not a run stopper and could be exposed.

    One suggestion I have is that the first two draft picks the jets had in this years draft Milliner and Richardson were both selected to replace the IMPACT left from Darrelle Revis. If the jets put Milliner in from the beginning meaning they don’t have him work out at the nickel spot first they could set the team back. It could be detrimental because the last thing the jets need is for their first round corner to start seeing stars out there. The best way to handle Milliner is to acquire another cornerback talent in free agency and have him start opposite of Cromartie and have Wilson and Milliner compete for the third cornerback spot.

    Interested Jet

  • keator

    One day I would love to read a headline that said Jets building a elite OFFENSE

  • westcoastJET28

    Are you kidding me, you never heard of Revis before Rex!!? Obviously, you know nothing about football sir. He was already an Island at Pitt, Rex just helped bring media attention. Revis was always Revis, hence the holdouts.

  • twoshady

    any chance people can cut out the rude comments towards the author/eachother and also the adolescent ROFL’s and broken Caps Locks? I personally come here for intelligent opinions and discussions. If you want that sh** you can go over to FOX sports.

  • matr dontelli iii

    calvin pace can cover and attack the quarterback? it’s 2013! idzik made mistakes with tebow and rIIvIIs? the only impact he made last year was the drama leading up to the trade that had to happen, the trade that was coerced by his agents dealing with tampa bay directly – commonly considered tampa-ering, therefore the draft picks are not replacing his impact. cro replaced his impact while appreciating what the team has done for him. acquire another corner in free agency? this team has more corners than an octagon! other teams are gonna be scooping up our scraps after final cuts! i think someone needs to cut back on the espn and nydn and more time reading sites like this one and maybe take a look at our entire roster.

  • matr dontelli iii

    sorry shady, and you too i.j., had i seen your comment (shady) before i posted mine i probably would’ve left off the last sentence. i agree, there is too much abuse pointed at the authors here. they do a tremendous job. we should all remember we’re here and not on yahoo or espn, even when we disagree with each other. even when we all think that we’re smarter than everybody else.

  • KAsh

    @Interested: Rex Ryan wants to secretly run a 4-3? Then please explain Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, the drafting of Wilkerson, Ellis, and Coples. I also initially thought the Richardson pick meant the team was switching to a 4-3, but there is one huge problem with that: the players needed for both schemes are very different.

    Also, while we are on this, Richardson is not expected to be a nose tackle. You seem to fault Rex for sticking with Pouha who was a Pro-Bowl level tackle until last year. But Ellis and Garay will be our main NT for this year. And when has Garay been a prima donna? He has funky haircuts. He is kind of weird. But prima donna? He has shown nothing to even be associated with one.

    Finally, Revis, Coleman, and Eric Smith. Coleman is a free agent. Nobody wants him. Eric Smith is a free agent. Nobody wants him. Here is an honest take on Eric Smith’s value (scroll down to #9):

    And finally, Revis. Just as Tebow fanatics are a big part of the reason Tim can no longer find a job in the NFL, Revis worshippers, the ones that made 16+ pilgrimages a year to kneel at the altar on Revis Island, are a big part of the reason Darelle is no longer a Jet. His head outgrew his talent. He wanted to get paid more than he could ever be worth. Trading him was not a mistake, regardless of the compensation received. Richardson and Milliner do not need to replace him. Let him be an anchor around someone else’s neck.

  • Bob

    Rex Ryan is now a 4-3 minded coach? The defense is about as multiple as you’re going to get.

  • Connor Rogers

    Appreciate the responses everyone, I think @KAsh covered most of what I was going to include in my response to @Interested Jet. To continue with that response, spending more money in free agency at corner is a little ridiculous of a thought for a few reasons…

    1) The Jets are going to extend Cromartie after this season, which will be costly.

    2) You draft players in the top 10 to START, not to fight for the nickel back spot.

    3) Money needs to be allocated on a majority of the offense and both safety positions next offseason, not a position like corner.

    I wasn’t entirely sure if your argument was trolling after butchering my name, but saying Calvin Pace can cover and “attack the quarterback?” Come on, it’s rare to find any outside linebacker in the league that excels in both those areas, Pace can barely hold his own in either category.

    Thanks for the read everyone, love the discussion!

  • __fense

    People really need to stop trying to define this defense as 3-4 or 4-3. It’s neither and both. The whole point is how multiple the hybrid system is.